News and Comment

Our Place: Drawing on the past, to create stronger places in the future

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Efforts to give the public greater power over the services provided in their community have been gaining momentum in recent times.

From community organisers to community budgets, from participatory budgets to shared decision making in patient care, evidence suggests that services which are better aligned with the needs and wants of local people run more efficiently and cost-effectively. Yet the process of inspiring, encouraging and facilitating people and groups to act in ways which benefit their local area is not straightforward. Success is often contingent upon the strength of the networks and relationships within a neighbourhood – and building and maintaining these, takes time, effort and expertise.

Our Place is an initiative firmly rooted in this neighbourhood-led tradition. By prioritising local knowledge and leveraging local skills, neighbourhoods funded under the Our Place initiative will tackle those issues which matter most to their communities. Our Place is not about starting from scratch, but building on what we know already works.

Over the past few years OPM – who will support Locality and other partners deliver a programme of support to Our Place areas – has worked extensively on wide range of programmes which share the Our Place desire to increase community participation in shaping local services. Below we’ve shared some of the challenges and opportunities we experienced in these projects in the hope that they will be of use to organisations and individuals participating in the Our Place programme.

It warrants mentioning that throughout these projects we never ceased to be impressed by the irrepressible spirit and inventive ideas of local people to change their community for the better – and we are sure that this same passion and talent will lead to fantastic outcomes in the Our Place neighbourhoods.

Cantelowes, Camden

Between 2011 and 2012 we helped Camden Council on a project designed to support community-led change to the local area whilst simultaneously encouraging local people to get to know one another. Working in the Borough’s Cantelowes ward we supported efforts to: discover resident’s preferences and priorities for projects that involved the community; develop practical and positive projects that met these criteria and which also brought residents closer together; and, to implement these ideas in the ward.

Reflecting on our experience of this process to date, we’ve observed how the capacity to make positive change is not always evenly distributed across communities and that in order to become successful, community-led actions need dedicated support. At the same time we found that practical tips such as prioritising the issues that have the widest appeal, and making participation as attractive to potential volunteers as possible, (rather than asking residents to attend yet another meeting), were significant in achieving positive outcomes.

You can read more about our work in Camden in this blog.

Unlocking Local Capacity

In the summer of 2012 we published our report Unlocking Local Capacity, based on our experience of working with over 30 councils to unlock the capacity in their communities.

Unlocking local capacity is a process premised upon closer, more collaborative working between councils, their staff, their elected members and their citizens, whereby the entire spectrum of local energy and ideas is marshalled for the wider public good.

The emphasis on ‘unlocking’ , as opposed to ‘unleashing’ is important, as we’ve found that a more active, engaged, responsible society won’t be created if councils simply ‘get out of the way’. In practice, unlocking local capacity requires many different things of public organisations. These typically include: using resources to build, strengthen or augment the assets of others; forging new sorts of relationships with voluntary groups and their work; and undertaking different sorts of engagement and consultation approaches that prioritise citizens and their energy.

Find out more about unlocking local capacity in our free guide.

National Citizen Service

National Citizen Service, the national programme which aims to encourage 16 year olds to participate in their communities, involved the young people designing and delivering ’social action’ projects in their community.

The evaluation – which OPM was involved in delivering – found that over 70% of participants felt they were more likely to help out in the local community because of NCS. The projects involved everything from young people running a coffee morning for isolated older people, fundraising for a local charity, helping children with their school work or renovating a disused area of land.

Key lessons from this evaluation suggests that the social action projects were more likely to be successful if they were genuinely youth-led, involved projects that guided reflection is used throughout the project so that they participants learn from the challenges and experiences, and that efforts are made to select projects that can be sustained beyond the life of the project.

Find out more about the National Citizen Service programme in our evaluation report.

Community Budgets

On behalf of the DCLG and the LGA, OPM worked on the Whole Place Community Budgets pilots, which sought to redesign an affordable local public sector, using the knowledge of local leaders and managers, and focusing on people and places, not organisations. As part of this project OPM was commissioned to produce an online learning resource which shared findings and practical tips from those involved in delivery in the four pilot areas more widely.

Community Budgets necessitate real joint ownership of activity between organisations. We found that those involved in delivering Community Budgets – the police, probation, health and DWP representatives – all reflected on the way in which Community Budgets helped to take their local partnerships from something ‘nice to have’ to something with crucial, practical application, and the sense of shared responsibility that is powering the whole exercise.

We also observed that rather than trying to tackle the whole local system through Community Budgets, partners whittled down their priority areas to just a handful which encompassed small cohorts of high need, high cost individuals who interacted with many different parts of the system. This succeeded in keeping different partners engaged and has focused attention on re-calibrating parts of the system where the impacts – financial and social – will be most valuable.

Visit the Whole Place Community Budgets website for more information.

For more information on the Our Place programme including advice and details of how to apply, visit the My Community Rights website.